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Steel is hard, but not as hard as investors might think.

Shares of steel companies sank Wednesday on a rejiggering of ratings by Goldman Sachs and the deadlock in Washington on spending, especially the delay in the massive infrastructure bill.

The losses end—or at least put on hold—the epic tear that both the commodity and the stocks have been on in the past year or so. Steel prices have quadrupled off pandemic-induced lows, leaving investors with big gains—and big volatility.

The company that felt the weight of Goldman’s shift the most was United States Steel (ticker: X).

Analyst Emily Chieng downgraded the stock to Sell from Hold and cut her price target to $21 a share from $34.

By midday,

U.S. Steel

had dropped 7.8%. The

S&P 500

Dow Jones Industrial Average
were off 0.8% and 1%, respectively.

Chieng pointed to two problems for U.S. steel, one market-related and the other company-specific.

The first is simply the high price of steel, driven in part by strong demand and a lag in supply caused by not enough production, the analyst wrote in a report. “We believe the market may be anticipating a correction in the coming months as additional import volumes arrive and new capacity begin operations,” she noted.

Falling commodity prices aren’t good for any commodity producer. For U.S. Steel specifically, lower revenues would hurt even more if Chieng is right in her expectation that the company will spend more capital to improve operations. Those investments will eat into free cash flow.

Chieng also downgraded Nucor (NUE) to Hold from Buy and cut her price target to $108 from $123 a share.

But the analyst isn’t down on all steel stocks. She upgraded

Commercial Metals

(CMC) and


(CLF) and increased their price targets. Commercial Metals went to Hold from Sell and to $33 from $31; Cliffs went to Buy from Hold and to $24 from $26.

Nucor, Commercial and Cliffs were down on the day by 4.1%, 1.5% and 4.2%, respectively.

Besides Goldman’s prediction of falling steel prices, congressional inaction was a drag on the stocks because any spending on infrastructure would benefit steel producers. .

The Senate has passed a $1 trillion infrastructure package, but the measure is being held up in the House by progressive Democrats who want $3.5 trillion for a social safety net that includes affordable child care and lower costs for higher education.

Chieng is influential, but she isn’t the only analyst. Others favor

Steel Dynamics

(STLD) and Cliffs. About 69% and 60% of analysts who cover the companies rate the stocks Buy. Chieng has Steel Dynamics as Buy. Roughly 30% rate U.S. Steel and Nucor shares Buy. Commercial Metals has a Hold across the board, according to Bloomberg.

Those five steel stocks are up about 50% year to date, but are down about 14% over the past month, on average.

Write to Al Root at [email protected]


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